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Formula One drivers urged to speak up for Bahrain rights activist

Lewis Hamilton and other F1 drivers are being called on by rights groups to speak out against human rights abuses in Bahrain.

Lewis Hamilton and his fellow Formula 1 drivers have been urged by human rights groups to speak out against human rights abuses and show solidarity with a Bahrain-based rights activist ahead of the opening race of the motor racing season in the Gulf country.

In a letter addressed to Hamilton and other F1 drivers ahead of the Bahrain Grand Prix, the European Center for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR) asked for their help in raising awareness about prominent human rights defender Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who was sentenced to life in prison after participating in 2011 anti-government protests in Bahrain.

“This is of paramount importance as the FIA ​​(Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile) seeks to take control of how drivers can express themselves through the changes made to the FIA’s International Sporting Code for 2023, threatening all penalize drivers who do not comply with the rules maintain a neutral attitude towards personal, political or religious matters,” the ECDHR said in a statement on Wednesday.

The letter refers to a recent altercation between the motorsport federation and its drivers after it updated its rules to prevent “political, religious or personal” comments from being made without prior approval.

The FIA ​​immediately received reactions from drivers, most notably Hamilton, who promised to keep talking about topics he is passionate about.

“I think we’ve come a long way. I think we’ve seen great progress but there’s more to do and we’re still going to places where there are still problems and I know there’s work being done in those places as well resistance, and these things can take time,” he told Sky News in an interview.

“I keep being myself and keep fighting for things I’m passionate about. I wouldn’t let anyone stop me from doing that.”

The FIA ​​updated the sporting code last December, requiring drivers to obtain prior written permission to make or display “political, religious and personal statements or comments”.

Following the backlash, the FIA ​​said drivers should only make political statements in “exceptional” circumstances and in “their own space”, and outside of a race, through their social media channels or during an interview.

They will still face sanctions if they oppose the law on track.

In its letter to Hamilton, ECDHR urges the seven-time F1 champion to help raise awareness about al-Khawaja’s case and “spread messages of solidarity with those who are suffering at the hands of the Bahraini authorities”.

“We hope that your openness to being informed about the human rights situation in the countries you race in will inspire others to follow your example, because as you rightly pointed out, ‘one person’ can only make a certain difference, and there is a “need for collective support” to make a difference,” the letter said.

The letter comes a day after human rights activists in the United Kingdom also urged drivers to move the sport away from a “moral vacuum” by speaking out at the opening race in Bahrain and the following race in Saudi Arabia.

“There are two paths F1 can take right now. One is a road that is a moral vacuum where the leaders and administrators seem to be heading,” said Paul Scriven, a member of the British House of Lords, at a press conference organized by the London-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy ( BIRD).

“There is another path that some drivers seem to be taking… who understand that they can use their platform and their sport not just for the sport, but for the good and for change and that they can take the human rights violations in the country they drive in. can’t ignore.” in.”

Hamilton has previously used his profile to address rights violations and racial injustice around the world.